Read a Good Dance Lately?

Dance Composition – Backwards

Lesson Plan for grades  6-12

Beginning and Intermediate Dance
Learning Objectives:
  1. In the language domains of listening and speaking, students will be able to communicate effectively with team members and make fair spoken contributions to the team’s creative tasks.
  2. In the language domain of reading, students will be able to utilize graphic organizers, pictograms, and abbreviations to decipher the movements contained in a written notation of a dance.
  3. In the domain of movement, students will be able to work collaboratively and make fair energetic contributions to the team’s creative tasks, resulting in a 16-count dance based on a written notation.
  4. In the domain of history, students will be able to identify Rudolf von Laban and his contributions to dance and movement sciences, including the notation system, Labanotation.
Arizona Dance Standards (Arizona Department of Education, 2006)

Strand 1 CREATE — Students explore, demonstrate and apply the elements and techniques of dance.
Concept 4. Improvisation/Choreography — Identify, demonstrate, analyze and apply improvisational structures, choreographic processes, forms and principles.

Performance Objective 4.  Choreographic Processes — Identify the choreographic process used to create dances. (Beginning 104)

Strand 1 CREATE — Students explore, demonstrate and apply the elements and techniques of dance.

Concept 3.  Elements of Dance — Identify, demonstrate, and analyze the elements of dance.

Overview of all stated Performance Objectives in regard to time, space, and energy.

Strand 2 RELATE — Students understand how the human experience influences and is influenced by dance, and apply dance to understand ideas across disciplines.
Concept1: Relating Dance Forms/History — Identify, demonstrate and analyze the origins, history and continuing evolution of various dance forms.

Performance Objective 1.  History and Development of Dance Forms — Demonstrate knowledge of the historical development and continued evolution of the various dance forms.


1.  Dance Teacher Magazine, K-12 Education articles in various issues

2.  “How Much Laban Is There in Labanotation?”, Ann Hutchinson Guest,  February 15, 2008, reprint of an essay originally posted on LabanTalk and CMAlist on January 16, 2008, visited October 19, 2009

3., visited October 19, 2009

4., visited October 19, 2009

Unit Plan

Students just began a new unit on dance composition, and will explore the process of creating a dance.  Students have already participated in dance lessons based on jazz, hip hop, modern, and ballet technique.

Materials Needed
  1. Rhythm Notation Chart– teacher made graphic organizer
  2. Pictogram Worksheet– teacher made handout
  3. Ipod music player with classical music selections

Students have been required to complete proficiency exams in each of the dance techniques studied this semester.  They have acquired basic vocabulary and movement skills.  Students will be tested on this knowledge through today’s lesson.  They will be interpreting written symbols, pictograms, and abbreviations and interpreting them through movement in a collaborative context.

Anticipatory Set

Students will complete a pictogram worksheet that includes a mixture of pictograms that students are likely to recognize from road signs, tv commercials, etc.  It will also introduce them to pictograms created by Rudolph von Laban, an important figure in 20th Century western theatrical Dance, and the inventor of the dance notation system, Labanotation.


Students will be directed to read the objectives.  The teacher asks why Rudolf von Laban was an important figure in the dance world and what he accomplished.  A think-pair-share discussion will ensue.  Our first movement exploration of the day will serve to physically warm up students and build upon their experience with the basic elements of dance:  time, space, and energy.

After the warm up, the teacher poses the question:

  • If we could make up our own notation system for writing dances, what might it look like?
  • The teacher will divide students into 3-4 teams and distribute rhythm notation charts with a pre-written 16-count dance.  Students will be asked to respond to a series of discussion questions, by allowing small group discussion and a chosen representative from each group to say the answer out loud:
  • What is the first thing you notice when looking at the chart? (boxes, rows, numbers, stick figures)
  • Why do you think it is called a rhythm notation chart?
  • What kind of writing is used to notate the dance on your chart (pictograms, abbreviations,
    musical counts)?
  • How would you perform the movement in count 1?

I will demonstrate a 4-count phrase of a dance that is notated on the lesson board.  After the demonstration, students will be directed to work in small groups to develop their interpretation of the notated dance on the rhythm notation chart.  Students are expected to make democratic, majority-rules group decisions instead of choosing leader/follower type roles.

Checking for Understanding

Students will perform the same movements that I demonstrated from the lesson board.  I will call out individual counts, such as “2”, and observe whether they perform the correct movement.

Guided Practice

I will rotate through the classroom while monitoring behavior and observing the students as they demonstrate skills.  Before we begin small group work, we will discuss briefly what can limit our progress and what we can do to get back on track.  It starts with observing our own behavior. Notice if we as individuals are “holding the floor,”or being bossy.  Notice if we as individuals are being very quiet or participating in off-task behaviors.  I will solicit answers for coping with these problems from students.


Simply ask, what did you learn?  About choreography?  About working with others?  Who was Rudolf von Laban and what contributions did he make to dance history and theory.  If there is time, discuss in small groups and select one member from group to read a conclusion to the entire class.

Independent Practice

Students may take additional rhythm notation charts home and interpret the teacher-notated dances for extra credit.

Measurement Tool

None.  This is a background building activity at the beginning of a unit.


Students will conduct an informal performance of the notated dances at the end of the class period.  If time requires us to be brief, more than one small group will perform at a time.  Students will be involved in ongoing performance assessments as we build our skills at performing and composing dances during the second half of the semester.


Students will be given modified reading assignments during the anticipatory set.  I will offer individual help as well as pair other students.  During the lesson, students will rely upon listening and movement skills.  There are no students who receive physical accommodations.  For those who need repetition of verbal directions, I will offer it.  I frequently create drawings and write notes on the board to help students who need visual cues to aid their listening comprehension.


Students may take additional rhythm notation charts home and interpret the notated dances for extra credit.

Here you may download a PDF with notes for Dance Phrase Analysis.

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